Get off ‘good bloke’ Gareth Baber’s back, Fiji skipper Osea Kolinisau tells doubters
Under pressure former Hong Kong coach has the support of his players as Sevens build-up intensifies
Gold medal-winning Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau is calling for fans and media to give new coach Gareth Baber a chance to find his feet.
The lofty expectations placed on the Fiji sevens team has seen the former Hong Kong boss come under intense pressure after failing to return a win in four rounds in charge on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“We are telling people back home to give Gareth time because they demand a lot from the sevens team,” Kolinisau said as Fiji began their lead-up to the Hong Kong Sevens with a training hit-out against the hosts on Saturday.
“They don’t care if it is a development side or a new coach or if there is a lot of change, all they know is that when they send a Fiji team out to play in a tournament, they expect to win.”
Kolonisau is confident both the team and Baber, who replaced the highly regarded Ben Ryan, are growing into their new relationship.
“I am really happy having Gareth come to Fiji, he is a good bloke,” he said. “I hope he stays with the team and I am getting to learn from him a lot more and learn from his experience.
“He’s learning that it’s not easy to step into someone’s shoes after they leave after all of the successes we have had but change is part of life.
“The boys really like Gareth and we’re getting the feel of each other now. It’s good to have him on our side.”
Fiji enter the Sevens looking to make it three wins on the trot here, but will have to find significant improvement from their last outing, where they were left flat-footed in a 40-7 semi-final loss to England in Vancouver.
There has been much said about the connection Fijian players have with Hong Kong and Kolinisau knows only victory will do next weekend.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage for us Fijians, we grew up watching legends of the game playing here,” he said.
“We have won here the last two years and we have won here more than any other country so we are trying to go a step better and defend our title.”
Fiji has included experienced campaigners Isake Katonibau and Jasa Veremalua in their squad for the two Asian legs in Hong Kong and Singapore, with Katonibau set to suit up for the first time since the last round of last season.
“It’s nice to have Isake back to share the workload. He’s been focusing on work but he always said he was going to come for Hong Kong,” Kolinisau said.
“It’s good to have his experience and his go forward and his characteristics in defence, too.”
Baber was pleased with what he saw at Saturday’s session, but is well aware there is only one way to ease the pressure.
“I just want to win. Coming here amplifies the pressure because it is the biggest sevens tournament in the world,” he said.
“We’ve done some good stuff, certainly with the ball in our hands. We are trying to get more out of our game when we haven’t got the ball in our hands and that has been a big focus in training.”
Fiji face a tough pool C that includes fellow big-stage performers New Zealand, as well as Wales and Japan, and Baber says he can sense his players are ready to rise to the occasion.
“Every sevens player loves playing in Hong Kong and it probably gets your competitive juices flowing quite early on,” he said.
“I suppose the big issue is holding them back from that a little bit, you don’t want to play the tournament before you get there.”